Open Thinkering


TB872: Different types of change

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category

This abstract image captures the essence of situational change, focusing on adaptability with dynamic, fluid shapes that appear to be reacting to external stimuli, conveying a sense of immediacy and reactivity.

Similar-sounding terms which are conceptually similar are tricky to deal with when you’re new to them. So this post is to help me tease apart the differences between systemic change, systematic change, system change, and situational change.


  • Systemic change refers to deep, fundamental change in the nature or operation of a system.
  • Systematic change pertains to ordered, methodical change following a specific process or protocol.
  • System change is a broad term for any change affecting a system, including systemic or systematic changes.
  • Situational change relates to changes in response to specific circumstances or environments; these are often more immediate and reactive.

Let’s dig in a bit more:

Systemic change

Systemic change involves altering the underlying principles, relationships, and processes that define how the system operates. In the context of Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP), systemic change is about shifting the way a system behaves or functions at a deep level, often in response to complex issues or emergent properties. It’s not just a change within the system, but a change of the system itself.

Systematic change

As I explained in my very first post about this module, systemic and systematic change sound very similar. However, the latter is about working step-by-step in a more methodical and planned way to try and effect change. Working systematically often involves following a specific methodology or set of procedures to achieve a desired outcome. With STiP, this might involve methodical approaches to problem-solving or implementing changes within a system.

System change

This is a general term which can encompass both systemic and systematic changes. ‘System change’ is a popular term at the moment, especially in relation to the climate emergency but it can be used from everything from minor adjustments to major transformation in the components, structure, or functioning of a system.

Situational change

If system change is general, then situational change is more context-specific, often referring to changes in particular situations or environments. The aim is less about changing the overall system and more about adapting or responding to specific circumstances or events. As a result, situational change is often reactive, dealing with immediate issues or problems as they arise.

Image: DALL-E 3

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